Gouverneur Morris (January 31,1752–November 8,1816), an American statesman, represented Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and was author of large sections of the Constitution of the United States, including its preamble.
Morris is regarded as a visionary of the idea of being "American". In an era when most Americans thought of themselves as citizens of their respective states, Morris expounded the idea of being a citizen of a single union of states .
He was born in 1752 on his family's estate in a section of Westchester County, New York that would later become incorporated into New York City as the Bronx. The land of his family's estate would later become the Morrisania neighborhood.
The only child of his father's second marriage, he was not expected to receive a substantial inheritance and thus pursued a vigorous education. During childhood, his right arm was severely damaged by scalding water, causing a lifetime disability.
At the age of thirteen, he enrolled in King's College (now Columbia University) in New York City and graduated four years later in 1768. In 1771, received a master's degree. He then studied for three years under the prominent New York City lawyer William Smith, who was strong opponent of the British government's policies in North America. During these years, he honed a strong philosophy on liberty and made numerous personal contacts that would later advance his political career .
In 1779, he was elected to represent his family estate in the Provincial Congress of New York, an extralegal assembly dedicated to achieving independence. His advocacy of independence brought him into conflict with his family, as well as his mentor William Smith, who had abandoned the patriot cause when it moved towards independence.
Despite an automatic exemption from military duty because of his handicap and his service in the legislature, he joined a special militia for the protection of New York City, a forerunner of the modern New York Guard .
As a member of the Provincial Congress of New York, he concentrated on turning the colony into an independent state. He was largely responsible for the constitution of the new state of New York.
Although he held no military commission, he was considered to be a brilliant military strategist. In May 1777, he was chosen by the state to coordinate the defense of Washington's army and the Continental Congress.
After the Battle of Long Island in August 1776, the British seized New York City and his family's estate. His mother, a Loyalist, gave the estate over to the British for military use. Because his estate was now in the possession of the enemy, he was no longer eligible for election to the New York state legislature and was instead appointed as a delegate to the Continental Congress.
He took his seat in Congress on January 28, 1778 and was immediately selected to a committee in charge of coordinating reforms in the military with Washington. On a trip to Valley Forge, he was so appalled by the conditions of the troops that he became the spokesman for the Continental Army in Congress and went out to help create substantial reforms in the training and methods of the army. He also signed the Articles of Confederation in 1778.
In 1779, he was defeated for re-election to Congress, largely because his advocacy of a strong central government was at odds with the decentralist views in New York. Defeated in his home state, he moved to Philadelphia to work as a lawyer and merchant.
In Philadelphia, he was appointed assistant superintendent of finance 1781-1785, and was a Pennsylvania delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and returned to live in New York in 1788. During the convention he was a good friend of George Washington, and was responsible for the draft of much of the Constitution. He went to Europe on business in 1789 and served as Minister Plenipotentiary to France 1792-1794. He returned to the United States in 1798 and was elected in 1800 as a Federalist to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of James Watson, serving from April 3, 1800, to March 3, 1803. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1802. After leaving the Senate, he served as chairman of the Erie Canal Commission , 1810-1813.
Morris, unhampered by his wooden leg, led a lively life with both married and unmarried women. At the advanced age of 57 he married Anne Cary ("Nancy") Randolph, whose brother Thomas married Thomas Jefferson's daughter Martha. He died at the family estate of Morrisania, and is buried at St. Anne's Episcopal Church in the Bronx borough of NYC.
- Brookhiser, Richard, Gentleman Revolutionary : Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution, Free Press, 2002.
- Crawford, Alan Pell, Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman -- and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2000. (a biography of Morris's wife).
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13